UPI Editor Emeritus
Washington (UPI) March 21, 2007
The good news is that the second United Nations resolution imposing new sanctions on Iraq has been agreed by the P5, the five permanent members of the Security Council.
The bad news is that these sanctions are mild. They threaten an embargo on Iranian weapons exports, which may actually save Iran money. Their main customers are Hezbollah and (if they can smuggle the arms successfully) Hamas, and their weapons come as gifts rather than as merchandise to be paid for. The proposed new sanctions also expand the list of individuals and organizations covered by an assets freeze and travel restrictions, including some individuals and bodies that are part of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Moreover, these sanctions will remain on hold pending the proposed visit to the United Nations of Iran's firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (along with an entourage of 38 aides to accompany him) to make his own appeal to the Security Council. There will also be a delay until the self-esteem of the South African government is suitably stroked.
The South Africans, currently holding the rotating chairmanship of the Security Council, grumble that they have not been sufficiently consulted or respected by the P5 and so want to use their temporary status to hold things up and to put their own stamp on the measure. That, at least, is the charitable view, which is held mainly by the diminishing number of nations who are not disgusted at South Africa's refusal to countenance any serious action against the appalling regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
Less charitable views at the United Nations suggest that the South Africans want to emasculate the sanctions in order to bolster their neutralist (perhaps that should be anti-American) credentials, and possibly to ensure future favors. South Africa is an oil importer, and that is something the Iranians have in abundance. The Indonesians are also being difficult, for their own reasons.
That is the problem with the international community and the varying attitudes its members take toward Iran. An unusually frank and useful statement of this problem was recently published by Paolo Casaca, a Portuguese Socialist member of the European Parliament, who points out that the European attitudes toward Iran have been schizophrenic. While European Union governments have lined up, slowly but decisively against Iran's nuclear ambitions, its businesses have taken a rather different line.
"European big business interests have placed money before our security and have twisted government policy, so many European taxpayers (who likely do it without even knowing) continue to lavish economic and financial support to the Islamic Republic of Iran," Casaca claims. "Indeed, the European Union has long been one of the largest trading partners of Iran, and as surprising as it might sound today, it has developed its operations and investments in Iran parallel with the development by Iran of its nuclear program."
He notes that between 2003 and 2005, EU exports to Iran rose by almost one-third to $17 billion, while EU imports from Iran, mostly of oil, rose by nearly two-thirds to $16 billion in that period. Europe is Iran's main supplier of goods and makes up almost half of the country's total imports.
Much of that commerce, Casaca notes, is subsidized by European governments who underwrite deals with and within Iran. Indeed, in some European nations such as Germany, the federal government export credit guarantees help finance German exports to Iran. The German government insures, through export guarantee programs, approximately 65 percent of the total German exports to Iran. After Germany, with about $7.5 billion of export guarantees, are Italy ($6.5 billion) and France ($1.4 billion).
"If we cut our economic handouts to Iran, can we slow or stop Iran's own purchases and tests of long- and short-range missiles that can hit any Mideast nation and parts of Europe?" Casaca asks. "If we in Europe stop our lavish financial ties to Iran, can we help stop the flow of hundreds of millions in Iran's profits to dangerous terrorist groups around the world -- terrorist groups who have already recruited more than 25,000 people who say they want to become suicide bombers?"
To the credit of the EU, these nations have put their short-term financial self-interest on hold in order to increase the diplomatic pressure on Iran. And to the credit of Russia, not always the most helpful of the P5 nations, the supply of nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr reactor has been stopped. The Bushehr reactor, supposedly for the peaceful purpose of delivering electric power, was originally a German project. But when the Germans pulled out, Russia took over the lucrative contract.
Claiming that the Iranians are behind on payments, the Russians have downed tools, but they insist this has nothing to do with U.N. sanctions and solemnly pledge that no ultimatum has been delivered to Tehran to accept the U.N. Security Council's demand that Iran's enrichment of uranium be stopped. True or not, the political message to Tehran is clear.
Russians and Europeans alike seem to be moving beyond the usual self-interested economic concerns to present a solid front against Tehran, with the clear demand that the U.N. threat of sanctions should be taken seriously. This is one of the more impressive acts of U.N. solidarity and effectiveness and reflects an impressive diplomatic effort by the United States. The question now is whether Iran is prepared to listen, and if not, whether the international solidarity at the United Nations will hold and whether the P5 can persuade the rest of the international community, starting with South Africa, to follow suit.
These are all big questions, but for once there seems to be a real prospect of the United Nations acting on principle, with effect and alongside the United States. Any one of these three attributes would be remarkable, but for the United Nations to pursue all three at once is almost revolutionary.
Vitaly Churkin said Tuesday it is "a separate economic issue" and went on to explain some of the nuclear relationship between Moscow and Tehran.
A report in the New York Times out of Moscow Tuesday said Russia has threatened to withhold fuel for the nuclear power plant it is building for Tehran in Bushehr.
"Russia has informed Iran that it will withhold nuclear fuel for Iran's nearly completed Bushehr power plant unless Iran suspends its uranium enrichment as demanded by the U.N. Security Council," the NYT reported, citing "European, American and Iranian officials" as sources.
Churkin disagreed, saying the dispute had to do only with bilateral economic issues.
"Our officials who have been involved in those talks (with Iran) I think have spoken very frankly and openly about it," Moscow's envoy told reporters outside the formal council chambers at U.N. World Headquarters in New York. "There are certain economic concerns; there are some requirements of a technical nature as they proceed with the Bushehr nuclear project.
"I don't want to go into it because it's none of my business," Churkin said by way of saying he did not know the inner workings of the discussions. "But what I know is that this matter has nothing to do with the discussions we're having here concerned with the Iranian nuclear issue, uranium enrichment and other things, which are the target of the discussions of the six" nations that negotiated the draft resolution.
The draft sent to the full council last week was written by the five permanent members of the council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany, which has served as part of the European Union three when it was on the council last year, pushing for sanctions against Iran.
"It's a separate issue, and there has been no Russian ultimatums to Iran," Churkin said.
When asked about fuel for the plant, he said none has been delivered.
"There is a plan of construction which envisages the delivery of nuclear fuel at a certain point which is linked to the progress of construction, but this is a separate issue," Churkin said. "The thing is that our deal with the Iranians is on track. It is intact, it is still there. We are still working on it.
"We are discussing whatever economic circumstances there might be with the Iranians, but we are not linking it to our discussions here in New York on Security Council resolutions and on this concern associated with the Iranian nuclear program," Moscow's envoy said.
Regarding suspension of providing fuel, he replied, "There is no question we have been talking to them" about the issue.
"Our goal was to elicit from the Iranian officials a positive response to the proposals of the six, which does include suspension of uranium enrichment," Churkin said.
"But either in the course of those discussions in Moscow or in other contacts we have been having with the Iranians, we have not delivered any ultimatums to them which would somehow link the Bushehr project with the Iranian nuclear program which we are discussing here in New York."
Bushehr was started as a German project but was abandoned under pressure from the United States, and Russia moved in to build it under a $1 billion contract.
Churkin said Moscow was "still committed" to the draft resolution, which is now being studied by the 10 non-permanent members of the council. The full council is to meet on it Wednesday.
South Africa, in the presidency seat this month, earlier in the week circulated a series of its own amendments to the draft, which would effectively gut it of any immediate sanctions.
"We think we have to be respectful to non-permanent members and offer them the opportunity to make their views known about the draft and discuss it with them," Churkin said. "We are analyzing those amendments. We'll be discussing those with non-permanent members, but at the same time, I can not tell you my views before I share" them with the elected 10.
But when asked if South Africa's proposal of a 90-day suspension wasn't "consistent with the original Russian position," he advised, "Let's not make too strong a connection between the two."
Moscow's envoy said, "Listen, we have to talk with non-permanent members. I think that as we talk to them -- and I do expect the sponsors of the resolution to take the lead in those discussions -- I hope we will have some commonality of views and common approach to this resolution."
As for a vote on the draft, Churkin thought it could be later this week or even next week.
Source: United Press International
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